Meet: Shanali Martin

At 17, Shanali Martin is blindingly mature, charming and hungry to learn: built to walk in Paris and wired to be a businesswoman.



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One over-exposed morning on Bondi Promenade, an olive-skinned, 5’10” vision of long limbs and enviable jet black waves was lounging seaside in a mohair coat far too heavy for Sunday brunch. Fifty metres down the walk, I was crouched much less glamorously with my monster of a wildlife lens. Five minutes prior, I’d left Shanali with posing instructions and a spray bottle for her hair, and for the next hour of shooting, the pair of us drew quite some confused stares – on her end, passersby stopped in their tracks for fear of interrupting a photoshoot… but where was the photographer? On mine, every man and his dog wondered why a paparazzo was sitting cross-legged on the pavement, and who could possibly be the subject of such an invasive photograph.

Certainly, neither Lara Bingle nor Red Foo were anywhere to be seen.

Just before 10 o’clock, one Sunday bruncher clicked and shyly exclaimed how much she’d loved Shanali on her recent success on Australia’s Next Top Model. A Bondi Speedos advocate stopped and asked for a photo “to show his mates”. A quartet of schoolgirls pointed and whispered amongst themselves before scuttling past in a frenzy of squeals and red-faced giggles. A father explained how much his daughter admired her. A mother gushed over how flawless she looked, even without makeup. Meanwhile, heavily zinced tourists didn’t really know what was going on, but took photos anyway – after all, she was beautiful, so “she must be somebody”.

We took refuge from the sun to go through our shots so far: “If Top Model gave me nothing, it gave me a profile,” she laughed, baffled by the public intrigue, then looked at me earnestly, “but it did give me a lot.”

At 17, Shanali is blindingly mature, charming and hungry to learn. She’s not interested in the politics of the industry – she wants to know about the change. Melissa McCarthy’s recent ELLE cover, for instance: unlike the internet outrage over the coat allegedly chosen to cover the actress’s fuller figure, Shanali is more interested in the decision behind the cover. McCarthy shapes pop culture in a very unique way. She never takes things too seriously. She bends media standards.

It’s simple, really.

And it’s this broader view on what’s happening around her that makes me so sure that Shanali Martin, patiently waiting for me to finish attacking her hair with a spray bottle, will be a global success story in a decade’s time. Yes, she’s a ‘Fresh Face’; yes, she’s ‘One to Watch’; and indeed, her success will come much sooner than those ten years. But, Shanali is built to walk in Paris and wired to be a businesswoman. And not one of cheesy silver screen diamantes (she’ll be shedding her reality television skin the minute she books her first print editorial and runway show), but one of Grace Coddington value and prestige.

Next minute, Shanali’s shaping Gen Y in the same way McCarthy shapes X – or at the very least least, she’ll be writing about the ones who do. And the world will be listening.

Just you wait.

Model: Shanali Martin @ IMG Models

Photography & Styling: Margaret Zhang

Look 1: Sabo Skirt Sweater, Model’s Own Trousers

Look 2: C&M Swimsuit – Le Specs Sunglasses

Look 3: Michael Kors Top and Jeans

Look 4: The Beauty Chef Beauty Fix Balm

Look 6: C&M Swimsuit – Le Specs Sunglasses – Derek Lam Trousers

Look 7: Rag & Bone Coat – T by Alexander Wang Tank – Model’s Own Pants

Shot on Nikon D600 with Sigma 150-500mm: I’ve been experimenting with this lens a huge amount recently, everywhere between shooting looks on self-timer to campaigns (admittedly, more so for commercial work, or shoots like this one, my usual self-portrait dig – the lens is a little too front heavy for my little tripod without a photo assistant…). As much as the guys at DigiDIRECT thought I was out of my mind when I said I intended to shoot human subjects with this monstrous Sigma, I’m just as much for using a wildlife lens (even hardcore paparazzi wouldn’t be keen for this particular arm workout) on people as I am for jackets as skirts, or shirts as hats. But, the results are everything I could ever wish for in outdoor editorial photography – despite the incredible depth of field, there’s no loss in vivid background colours (essential for a location like Bondi), and the long-range detail it’s capable of, once your bicep acclimatises to the kg’s, is just as good as my 85mm.

P.S. Apologies for that epic week-long silence! As some of you have likely seen on Instagram, it’s been a manic week of study, birthdays, papers, races and work! More on every one of those later…


Margaret Zhang 章凝 is an Australian-born-Chinese filmmaker, photographer, consultant and writer based between New York and Shanghai. Since establishing her website in 2009, Zhang has gone on to work with global brands including CHANEL, Swarovski, YEEZY, Bulgari, Gucci, MATCHES, Under Armour, and Louis Vuitton in a wide range of capacities both in front of and behind the camera, while completing her Bachelor of Commerce/Bachelor of Laws at The University of Sydney. Zhang’s directing, photography, and styling has been employed by the likes of VOGUE, L’Officiel, Harper’s BAZAAR, NOWNESS, and ELLE internationally. She has been listed in Forbes Asia’s 30Under30 and TimeOut’s 40Under40, and her work has been recognized as shaping the international fashion industry by the Business of Fashion BoF500 Index for four consecutive years. CNN has identified Zhang as a leading fashion photographer in Asia and ELLE named her the region’s most influential digital voice. She went on to be the first Asian face to cover ELLE Australia. In 2016, she co-founded BACKGROUND, a global consultancy for which she specialises in Western-to-Chinese and Chinese-to-Western cultural bridging for a range of luxury, lifestyle, and brand initiatives. In 2017, she exhibited a series of 39 unseen photographic works as a solo show in Sydney, and premiered her first short film – a 15-minute exploration of her visceral relationship with classical music on both performance and abstract planes – to critical acclaim. In 2018, co-curated the first annual FOREFRONT Summit focused on inter-industry problem-solving at all scales of business. From this king summit, Zhang developed FOREFRONT+ – a round table series of candid conversations covering subject matters of universal concern. In 2019, THE FACE Magazine engaged Zhang as Creative-Director-at-Large for Asia for its relaunch. Zhang is currently working on her first feature film.


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